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    The Indianapolis Colts’ Hire of Jeff Saturday as Interim Head Coach Is Deeply Unserious

    The Indianapolis Colts hired Jeff Saturday -- someone with no college or professional coaching experience -- to be their interim head coach

    The decision from the Indianapolis Colts to fire former head coach Frank Reich and hire former All-Pro center Jeff Saturday betrays a deeply unserious approach to the NFL.

    Colts owner Jim Irsay made a mockery of the hiring process when tapping Saturday, who has no college or NFL coaching experience, to be the interim coach of the Colts – an insult to Reich and to the coordinators on staff who have prior head coaching (or any coaching) experience.

    Jeff Saturday Hire Is a Bad Joke

    By selecting a high school coach with a 20-16 record in AAA ball in Georgia, Irsay asserted the importance of friendships and familiarity over experience, success, or any reasonable evaluation criteria one could use to suggest viability for the job.

    In an industry where assistants grind for years with little pay and scant opportunities for advancement, seeing someone “skip the line” without much unique qualification to do so is a slap in the face.

    This has a particular impact on coaches disadvantaged by structural barriers to advancement, including minority coaches who often have to coach for more years to get a job and are let go earlier in their tenures.

    It’s not fair to other coaches, nor is it fair to Saturday, who will receive undue scrutiny for an eight-game stint with a team he’s had no hand in building or much contact with as a game planner or administrator.

    Running an NFL team is nothing like running a high school team, and there’s a reason that coaches come up through the ranks after extensive experience within a professional organization, whether it’s a high-level college program or the NFL. Coaches will often put together hour-by-hour schedules for the entire season for most members of the staff before training camp comes together, sometimes getting as granular as 15-minute chunks.

    MORE: PFN Roundtable Reaction to Saturday Hire

    Much is made of coaches who advertise their own impossible schedules, with unhealthy hours and inconceivable sleep schedules. It’s not necessary to be the hardest-working coach to be the most successful. But it’s still a remarkably demanding job with extraordinary turnover at the lowest levels.

    Coaches arrive hours before players do in order to prep the materials for player meetings that day, and consult with other coaches in the building on install and gameplan for hours before presenting it to the people executing it.

    Coaching meetings bleed into meetings with operations staff on logistics and travel, front office staff on player evaluation and acquisition — which can occur at any time throughout the week, even after the trade deadline — meetings with athletic training staff for updates to player health and any changes that need to be made to rehab or load schedules, meetings with public relations to fulfill obligations to the media and public, meetings with the owner to provide an update on the state of affairs, meetings with marketing to fulfill sponsorship obligations.

    Oh, and meetings with players to actually install the game plan and instill team culture.

    The time spent in those meetings will rival or even be eclipsed by tape sessions with other coaches, tape sessions with players, and tape sessions alone. And somewhere in there, they have to actually conduct practices, correct player technique, and then … review film of the practice in more meetings with players, to correct what needs to be corrected.

    What It Takes To Be an NFL Coach

    Successful head coaches are organizational wizards and have a keen understanding of what makes a billion-dollar operation run smoothly. They manage personnel well and maintain friendly relationships with two dozen coaches and dozens more outside the coaching staff. They manage players well, have a completely different skill set from staff relationships, and can provide individualized attention to players.

    They have an eye for film on offense and defense and can teach technique individually and tactics holistically. And they manage the organization’s culture, from its internal locker room workings to its outward-facing presence.

    In short, good NFL coaches are administrators, visionaries, teachers, tacticians, and leaders. These are skills picked up as they rise through the ranks and observe other coaches practice those skills. And it’s unfair to ask someone with experience managing a high school team with part-time players and a staff of five to suddenly lead one of the most valuable entertainment properties on the planet.

    It’s unfair to Saturday, it’s unfair to his subordinates and it’s unfair to players – who still have something to play for even as their team is out of the playoff race. How they perform will determine how well they can secure the future of their families or fulfill their obligations to their teammates.

    And it’s unfair to people who have worked years in the industry with success at every stop who are competing for one of the 32 coaching jobs in the NFL.

    On top of this farce, Irsay seemingly had no clue what he had done or what it looked like. Throughout his presser, Irsay recalled anecdotes of Saturday’s playing days, as if his ability to block a nose tackle had much to do with his ability to lead a team as a head coach.

    He compared Saturday’s hire to the hires of Don Shula, Bruce Arians and Tony Dungy. Shula had five years of experience in college and NFL coaching before earning his stint as an NFL head coach, having coordinated one of the best defenses in the league before the Colts hired him in 1963.

    Arians had 36 years of experience as a college and NFL coach before his first shot at a head coaching job in Indianapolis. And Dungy had already been a head coach once before the Colts signed him, with 21 years of experience total in the NFL and college, six of them as a head coach.

    Irsay described the decision as “intuitive,” and contrasted it to the successful Dungy hire, where Irsay was methodical. It was an odd way of spinning the hire positively, and he somehow asserted that not having NFL head coaching experience would make Saturday less likely to coach “afraid,” which Irsay confusingly attached to the use of analytics in decision-making.

    When asked about how the perception of networking and familiarity overrode more “methodical” decision-making approaches that could give minority coaching candidates a more even playing field, Irsay went off on a bizarre rant about accountability and media, saying: “There is no problem or perception, except some of you guys make a problem or perception, but you need hits so you’ve got to do it. I understand. I’d do the same thing, I was a broadcast journalism major too.”

    He added, “I don’t know, are you guys ever held accountable? Do your editors bring you in and say, ‘Well, you wrote that stuff. It was all wrong. You’re fired.’ We get held accountable, that’s for sure.”

    Irsay, who cannot be fired and can only be removed from ownership of the team after a several-year-long process that puts billions into his bank account, asked the media if a shrinking industry with fewer members than ever had ever faced accountability.

    For Irsay, accountability for others means losing their job, while accountability to him means criticism. And it was an odd way to defend a hire that was seemingly indefensible. Perhaps his path to owning the Colts — an inheritance not made contingent upon any record of industry success — informed his decision about who should lead the Colts.

    Saturday, for his part, was surprised to receive the call. Multiple times, he described his reaction as “shocked,” adding that he wanted to know why he was a good candidate for the job — an odd reverse interview that really shouldn’t happen with people who are qualified.

    On top of that, it was odd to hear that Saturday had already made a decision on the starting quarterback and left tackle after having spent no time in a coaching capacity working with the players.

    Fans raise their eyebrows when they hear that their team’s late-round draft pick didn’t expect to be drafted, and they should do the same with a head coach. The stakes are higher, and the surprise runs deeper.

    Irsay remarked that he thought he was lucky that Saturday was available. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the only competitors for Saturday’s head coaching services were Hebron Christian Academy, and one would hope that an NFL team could outbid a high school.

    But that mentality might have given us the essential background we need to understand this decision.

    Jim Irsay is running a high school operation.

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